Essential oils and children - more questions answered
Doc Smitty talks essential oils and children - Effectiveness, marketing & philosphy
Do they really work or is it a mind over matter thing?
I think that there are probably some uses for oils that will be studied and proven to work. I think these will be pretty rare and only a small fraction of the claims that are currently made.
So, is it mind of matter (placebo)? Here are some of the most common uses I see for oils in kids:
Teething - It’s not even clear what symptoms teething causes …fussiness, fever, runny nose, etc have all come into question. But, if you give an oil and a symptom goes away, does that mean the oil fixed it? Not likely.
Fever - Fevers come and go during the day with illness, even without medication.
Cough/congestion - The regimens I see where children have oils placed frequently basically make it impossible to know if they do anything for these symptoms. Cough/congestion will be worse at certain times of day and better at others treatment or no.
How close are we to having actual research on the use of oils?
I still think we are quite some time away. Those that are currently doing research are often biased, are not doing high-quality studies and are using small sample sizes.
Why are they sold through multi-level marketing (MLM)?
It’s a fast way to get a product out there and make a lot of money. Since I’ve been on social media, I’ve seen several of these types of MLM ideas crop up. The difference with these is I have some specific knowledge about the conditions they are being used for and specific concerns about how their use could harm a population of people that I care very much about. I know very little about bags and good smelling wax that can be melted with a light-bulb so I haven’t gotten involved until now.
In many ways, it protects the big company because they are not the ones out there making claims about the oils and what they can do. That falls to their independent distributors. If someone were to have a bad outcome because of their use of essential oils, who is responsible? If I prescribe a medicine that someone is allergic to, that responsibility falls squarely on my shoulders, not the makers of amoxicillin. If I prescribe the wrong medicine for a kids asthma and something bad happens, that responsibility falls to me.
Are they an increasingly popular trend or just something I was not aware of?
I’m not sure but it certainly does feel like they are gaining in popularity. Social media makes it seem that way at least.
Do you believe the claim that certain brands of oils are superior to others?
I’m sure there are differences but since we don’t even know what they do for the most part, it’s hard to answer this question.
Regarding writing about essential oils: Are you mad, man?
Yes, in fact, I think I must be.
What’s the number one reason you see parents using oils instead of medicine?
In general, people are becoming less trusting of experts and organized institutions. Medicine and doctors are no different. The gap between what a doctor knows and what patients know shrinks every day. People can find out information about their conditions and know basically the treatment options that exist. People are looking to live more natural lives and most who use them feel that oils fit within that idea. When you combine these two issues, right or wrong, essential oils seem to step in the gap.
What is a good way to communicate with your doctor about your use of essential oils (for specific conditions and generally)?
I think it’s important to be honest with you doctor about your use of essential oils. As new information is uncovered it would be important for your doctor to be able to show you new research etc, especially if something shows a particular oil to be unsafe. They can only do this if they know about your use of them. Also, as doctors are prescribing medications, we need to know anything you might be on that could cause a drug interaction.
What is your take on the potential political barriers to the study of essential oils given that they are not backed by super profitable pharmaceutical companies?
Young Living is a very profitable company. They are big and profitable and will only continue to be more profitable. There is no reason that they could not start testing their own products or set up independent testing.
After your research as a pediatrician, would you use them on your children?
People will read all of this information or even do further research and come to different conclusions from me but here are two reasons I won’t:
1. I do not treat my kids with unnecessary medications. Since they are recommended for symptoms and given with the hopes of reliving those symptoms, I consider these oils to be medication.
2. I believe that, due to the lack of good studies, the use of them in children should be considered experimental at this point.
- The use of essential oils seems to be growing.
- The evidence for their use in children is slim.
- Talk with your doctor about the products you are using so that they can be aware of potential safety issues and medication interactions.
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Get to know Justin Smith, M.D.
Justin Smith, M.D., is a pediatrician in Trophy Club and the Medical Advisor for Digital Health for Cook Children's in Fort Worth, Texas. Dr. Smith is an experienced keynote speaker for a variety of topics including pediatric/parenting topics, healthcare social media and physician leadership. If you are interested in having Dr. Smith present to your conference or meeting, please contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
He has an active community on both Facebook and Twitter as @TheDocSmitty and writes weekly for Cook Children's checkupnewsroom.com. He believes that strategic use of social media and technology by pediatricians to connect with families can deepen their relationship and provide a new level of convenience for both of their busy lifestyles. Dr. Smith’s innovative pediatric clinic, a pediatric clinic “designed by you,” open now. Click to learn more. To make an appointment, call 817-347-8100.